The Czech Night Hawk
He was born in a family of a railway inspector at Svatý Kříz near the town of Německý Brod (today Havlíčkův Brod) on 23rd September 1916. He spent his childhood there, and graduated from a trade school. He worked in a convenience store in Kladno for a brief period, but he was not attracted by this kind of career. He loved planes, and volunteered to join the airforce. He went through the Military Flying School in Prostějov between 1935 and 1937. This school - SODL - prepared future junior airforce officers. There were many promising talents among them: the 73 graduates of 1937 also included future aces like Václav Jícha, Otmar Kučera or Ladislav Světlík as well as many other western front fighter pilots. First of all he had to go through a hard Prussian-style infantry boot camp, then through theoretical preparation, and then, finally, he got to flying. After graduation, Kuttelwascher served at the 4th Regiment in Prague-Kbely. He went through his fighter pilot training there. In May 1938 he transferred to the 1st 'T.G.Masaryk' regiment in Hradec Králové. He joined the 32nd Fighter Flight equipped with Avia B-534 biplane fighters. The flight commander was Staff Captain Evžen Čížek a later Sqadron Leader of the No. 312 (Czechoslovak) Squadron and a future ace, too.
International tensions grew in the fall of 1938. The 32nd Flight rotated between several South Moravian airfields (as part of the 4th Army Air Arm), and later operated in Eastern Slovakia and Ruthenia (3rd Army). They were on watch for Hungarian aircraft violating Czechoslovak air space frequently. After the Munich agreement and the Vienna settlement, Czechoslovakia lost large territory. The flight returned to Hradec Kralové. It was still there on the cold morning of March 15, 1938, when the remain of Czechoslovakia was taken by Germans. Extremely bad weather conditions (as well as military discipline) prevented pilots from fleeing abroad.
There were still enough of those who never put up with the situation. They left the country to offer their services to countries expected to get into a war with Germany soon. Sergeant Karel Kuttelwascher was among them. He and his friends from the Flight crossed the Polish border sealed in a railway car on the night of 19th June 1939. They were aided by the semi-legal Czechoslovak Airman Union. 23 of his SODL classmates escaped the same way at that time. He reported to the Czechoslovak consulate in Krakow. The Czechoslovak military group operated there, later to become the core of Czecholovak Resistence in exile. He spent some time in the nearby camp of Male Bronowice.
Polish officials did not show any interest in the runaway Czechoslovaks, and many Czech soldiers and pilots only viewed Poland as a stopover on their way to the West. A decision was taken to trasnfer them to France. This was under the condition that they join the Foreigners' Legion. There was still peace, so France could not hire any foreigners for their regular army. Kuttlewascher left Kdynia, and arrived in the French port of Calais on board of the Calstelholm ship on July 30, 1939. He went on to the 1st Foreigners' Legion Regiment in Sidi-bel-Abbés in Algeria. He had to go through hard infantry training once again.
As had been promised by the French authorities, the Czech airmen were transfered to the French Armeé de l'Air as soon as the war started. Kuttelwascher was sent to airports in Tunisia and Algeria. In the winter of 1939 he left for the fighter pilots training base (Centre d'Instruction de Chasse No 6) in Chartres. About a hundred of Czech airmen were retrained for French and American equipment there. He became familiar with the Morane-Saulnier MS-406C.1 fighter aircraft. Altough he got through the training very quickly, he did not get to the front line during the 'Phony War'. The situation changed after the German western attack on France which started in May.
Kuttlewascher, together with five other Czechs (including his later RAF Squadron friends Bedřich Krátkoruký and František Běhal) were transfered to the Groupe de Chasse III/3 seven days later. This unit, equipped with MS406-C.1 fighters, was stationed at the Beauvais-Tille airport. Evžen Čizek, Kuttelwascher's former commander, was among the many Czechs serving with the unit. The CG III/3 fighter group was very active from the very first days of the German offensive. It was led by Commandant Le Bideau. After tough fights at the opening phase of the Blitzkrieg, GC III/3 transferred to the Cormeilles-en-Vexin airport (21st May). They were equipped with modern Dewoitine D-520C.1 fighters, the only ones capable of resisting the enemy successfully. There were desperately few of those. GC III/3 was back in action by early June. They were fighting a lost battle, though. The resistence of the demoralized and decimated French army was getting close to an end. The unit was retreating south under the pressure of the moving front line, still fighting on the way. They passed through the airports of Illiers-l'Eveque, Germinon, La Chapelle-Vallon, Montargis, Grand Mallerey, Avord, and Perpignan-La Salanque. Three days after new French prime minister Philippe Petain asked for truce, the remains of GC III/3 crossed the Mediterrainian for Africa (20th June). Kuttlewascher's 6th escadrilla landed in Algeria one day before. The 5th escadrilla landed in Bone. The whole unit gathered in Realizane on 22nd July. They learnt about the French capitulation three days later.
Kuttlewascher's scores in the Battle of France are interpreted in various ways by different sources. The most precise figure given by French archives is two confirmed and one probable kills. He was decorated with the Croix de Guerre with a Palm and a Silver Star.
After the French capitulation, there only was one place to go for the Czech airmen - Great Britain, the only country still resisting Germany. The Czech members of CG III/3 were released from service on 1st July and took a train to Casablanca in Morroco. This is where the Czech pilots from all over Northern Africa gathered. A numerous group of them left Casablanca on board of the Royal Scotsman on July 9. They transferred to the David Livingstone in British Gibraltar. They took off on 21st July and arrived at the British port of Cardiff on 5th August.
Tired, but not broken, these men in unfamiliar uniforms speaking a strange language disembarked on the British coast. They were welcomed with high appreciation. Britain was alone against the enemy that had never been defeated. Well trained and experienced pilots was a really great help. They were given all they needed to fight on.
After a short stay in a quarantine camp, Karel Kuttlewascher joined the Royal Air Force in the rank of Sergeant (14th August 1940) as a Voluntary Reserve, as every foreign pilot had to. He was in a group of pilots sent from the Czechoslovak aircraft depot in Cosford to the No. 5 OTU in Aston Down to be retrained for the Hawker Hurricane fighters. He celebrated his 24th birthday with his first flight on the Hurricane. He achieved all his RAF victories on this machine.
On 3rd October 1940, the Battle of Britain was beginning to ease up, and the Germans were switching to night bombing. Kuttlewascher was transferred to the No. 1 Squadron that day. He stayed with this unit for almost two years, and contributed significantly to its fame.
The No. 1 Squadron was equipped with Hurricanes Mk. Ia in those days, which were replaced by Hurricanes Mk. IIa in February 1942, with some Mk. IIb's added in April. It was based in Wittering, Loncolnshire. Starting from 15th December 1940, the the Squadron operated from Northolt, Middlesex, and on 5th January 1941, they moved south of London to Kenley, Surrey. It was led by S/Ldr David Pemberon. After his fatal crash in November 1940, Canadian S/Ldr Mark 'Hilly' Brown took over, but he was soon replaced with S/Ldr Richard Brooker, DFC, on January 1941. The unit was mixed, as was common with RAF Squadrons. It was made of the British, Canadians, New Zealanders, French, even one Lithuanian, but mainly Czechs. There were eleven of them in October 1940, and the total number of Czechs serving with the Squadron within the next two years was 30. They formed almost one half of the flying personnel. In May 1941 was the A-Flight declared as Czechoslovak. It was headed by F/Lt Antonín Velebnovský until his death. Several Czech aces were with the flight beside Kuttelwascher -Vaclav Jícha, Bedřich Krátkoruký, Josef Příhoda, Evžen Čízek, and Josef Dygrýn-Ligotický.
Operational activities of the 1 Squadron were wide. Apart from defensive actions, they flew the first attacks over the coast of occupied France. These actions were called Circus: a code name for an air-raid performed by a small number of bombers accompanied by a strong figter escort. The goal was to attract and destroy the enemy right in the air. These offensive sweeps were usually done by a Wing - a higher tactical unit made out of three or more Squadrons. The No. 1 was first operational within the Northolt Wing (1, 601 and 303 (Polish) Squadrons). On 7th Apri 1941, the Squadron moved from Kenley to Croydon, and settled down at the Croydon satelite base of the Kenley sector in Redhill on the very beginning of May. It was transferred to the Kenley Wing made of the 1 and 258 and 302 (Polish) Squadrons, which was soon replaced by the 312 (Czechoslovak) Squadron.
Kuttelwascher drew attention to him during these offensive actions. He gained three certain and one probable kills in the Spring and early Summer of 1941. The machines shot down were Bf 109's, the E and F versions, generally considered superior to slower Hurricanes.
On 1st July 1941, the 1 Squadron was withdrawn from sweeps over France, and it transfered from Redhill to Tangmere. The base was located 5 kilometers North-East of picturesque Chichester. The unit stayed there for over a year. It was entrusted with the night defence of nearby ports of Southhampton and Portsmouth. It was rearmed, and the pilots started intesive night training. They were now flying Hurricanes NF Mk. IIc, which completely replaced the Mk. IIb versions in January 1942.
The 1 Squadron experimented with an unusual night tactic called Turbinlite. A two engined Douglas Havoc equipped with a radiolocator AI. Mk. IV and a huge searchlight at the nose was accompanied by a pair of satelite Hurricanes not suited for a radiolocator. Havoc pinpointed the target and lit the enemy, so the Hurricanes could attack it. This idea arose in the fall of 1940 during the massive Luftwaffe night bombing, when there was a shortage of radiolocator equipped night fighters. The project was dropped later, because it yielded poor results in view of high losses caused especially by collisions. There were also enough Bristol Beaufighter night fighters available in the end of 1941. The machines used in the 1st Squadron Turbinlite training were usually Havocs Mk. I of the 1455 Flight located in Tangmere. The 1 Squadron then employed another offensive night method called Night Intruder, which will be described later.
The operation activites of the 1 Squadron dropped a bit in the late Summer and fall of 1941. There were only some sporadic attacks on enemy targets in the Channel known as Channel Stop and Roadstead. In early 1942, Pilot Officer Karel Kuttelwascher was the only Czech serving with the unit, as the others had been transferred to other Squadrons. His abilities and achievments were rewarded on 17th February 1942, by a promotion to the rank of Flight Lieutenant, and the A Flight leader. In November, 1941, S/Ldr Brooker was transferred to the Far East Command, and replaced by famous S/Ldr James MacLachlan, DFC, DSO. This Royal Air Force ace, who had lost his left arm in a combat over Malta, made his mark once again by Kuttlewascher's side in the Night Intruder actions. This method was just getting its finishing touches en early 1942.
The Night Intruder was not Kuttelwascher's invention, as was sometimes claimed. It is true, though, that Kut brought this method to perfection, and achieved the highest score with it. These actions meant the night destruction of enemy bombers near their bases. The first RAF unit to use this method was the No. 87 Squadron, in return of similar actions taken by Junkers Ju 88's of the I./NJG 2 penetrating over British airports by night. It was later joined by the 3, 32, 43, and 253 Squadrons, but none got anywhere near the No. 1. The method itself developed significantly. In the beginning, British coastal guard reported German bombers approaching the coast. Several Hurricanes took off heading for selected German airports to wait for the returning attackers there. The bombers were very vulnerable on return. They had little fuel and ammunition, the crews were tired and frequently wounded, and the gunners had to leave their positions for the landing. They flew at a low speed with their positioning lights on, over lighted runway. All of this offered some chances to the Hurricanes. There is no denying this was sabotage tactics. Tired bomber crews shaken by the hell they had experienced over England were returning to their base, happy they had been given another day. Suddenly - right over their own airport - the shadow of a Hurricane emerges from the darkness. Tracing shots cut through the darkness. Explosions, flames, end... None of those blond men would have time to say their prayers... However advantageous this method was for the intruder, it was a passive method. The attacks were staged on machines that had already done their job. Another stage of the Night Intruder actions started when the British took the initiative, sending out the Hurricanes soon after dusk to catch the German bombers on the take off. This was riskier, since the German crews were more concentrated, but the effect was higher - the bomb load intended for British cities was destroyed with the aircraft. This was important especially in the Spring and Summer of 1942, when the Luftwaffe waged the so called baedecker offensive targeted at British historic towns, such as Bath, Canterbury, York, and Exeter, as well as other places of a high historic value. The Night Intruder operations, undertaken by lonely Hurricanes, were extremly dangerous. They were only suitable for pilots with strong nerves and cats' eyes, because no radiolocators could be installed into the single seated Hurricanes. The pilot was on his own, over enemy teritorry, near heavily defended airports, under circumstances that made him visible. He had to count with flak, German night fighters or engine failure. A short distraction could prove fatal in low flight. Navigation was very difficult. The pilot had to hold the lever in one hand, trying to spread the map on his knee with the other hand, and read it in the faint light of the controls. If he managed to find the badly visible enemy airport, he still had no guarantee of seeing anything there. Kuttelwascher sometimes visited up to five bases in one flight with no success. Luftwaffe frequently returned to other airports than they had taked off from. The crews had some twenty bases to choose from. Kuttelwascher remembered this later: "...I wonder around and wait. I must not be too low, or else I would not be able to copy the terrain, but I must keep to the ground as much as possible to see the sillhouettes of the returning airplanes above me. Sometimes waiting is in vain. I spent tens of minutes lost in the dark while my planes were not coming back. They were landing somewhere else, or they had never taken off from that particular airport. Sometimes I get lucky and managed to join them as they were getting ready for the landing. I had to decide quickly. If somebody went into my way, I took him immediately. If I was not sure, I climbed up a little bit, and joined them in the circle, so I could choose well. I occasionally turned on my lights, so they thought I am one of them - a Luftwaffe aircraft - and did not get scared unnecessarily. This is what I needed, I have to had order in my work. Just no turmoil. It will start anyway when the first catches on fire. It is best when it falls and explodes on the ground. The other then thought this had been a crash, and I had more time to choose another one..."
As the Night Intruder missions were pointed at airports deep in France, the Hurricanes carried two additional tanks under their wings, 200 litres of fuel each. Together with the 313 litres in the main wing tanks, and the 127 litres in the reserve fuselage tank, this made 840 litres of fuel - from 3 to 3,5 hours of flight at speed of 270 kph. No wonder the pilots returned quite exhausted from these long thrilling missions.
The Night Intruder operation was run by the 1 Squadron from 1st April to 2nd July 1942. They took 180 missions, shot down 22 enemy aircraft, and damaged another 13. They also destroyed 67 trains, 5 boats and a one vehicle. The highest scoring pilot in No. 1 was F/Lt Karel Kuttelwascher. In only 15 missions, he gained 15 confirmed kills, and 5 damaged airplanes. It was by far the best individual score in this operation. Kuttelwascher's personal scores went up to 20 confirmed kills, 2 probable, and 5 damaged.
On 9th July 1942, the 1 Squadron was transferred north from Tangmere to Acklington. They were re-equipped with Hawker Typhoon machines. Their task in Tangmere was taken over by the 43 Squadron. Kuttlewasher wished to continue with night actions. On July 8, 1942, he was transferred at his own request to the 23 Squadron, which performed Night Intruder missions over France, Belgium, and mainly the Netherlands. The No. 23 was located at the Ford base in Sussex. On August 6, 1942, they turned in their current machines - Douglas Boston Mk. III and Havoc Mk. I - switching completely to the new night fighter planes De Havilland Mosquito NF Mk. II. They moved to Manston, Kent. They spent the following two months moving back and forth between this base and and the Bradwell Bay airport. The standard equipment of this famous Mosquito included a AI. Mk. IV radiolocator, but this was not the case with the 23 Squadron. The loss of an aircraft over enemy teritorry would have meant the Germans getting acquainted with this top secret device. It is worth mentioning that Kuttelwascher was the first foreigner allowed to fight on the new Mosquitos.
Kuttelwascher formed a two-member crew with navigator P/O G. E. Palmer. They undertook six Night Intruder missions over France and the Netherlands from August 11 to September 8, 1942. Kuttelwascher wasn't as lucky as with No. 1 - he did not shoot down or even see a single enemy aircraft. Operations had to be stopped because of bad weather in the Fall of 1942. On October 1, 1942, F/Lt Karel Kuttelwascher, DFC & Bar, was permanently recalled from all actions. Having left active service, he was transferred to the Czechoslovak Airforce Inspectorate in London. He was entrusted with a special mission in the US on June 10, 1943. He helped in drafting American Czechs for the Czechoslovak Airforce in Great Britain, and gave lectures at flying schools, making his enourmous combat experience available to the young USAAF pilots. He travelled around the US from July to September 1943. He went thourghout the country, from Boston to Florida, from Washington to California. He lectured at the Army Air Forces School of Applied Tactics (AAFSAT) in Orlando. The Americans showed detailed interest in his success and tactics. They were trying to employ it against the Japanese. He also flew many machines exotic for the Czechs, such as P-40 Warhawk, P-51 Mustang, and P-38 Lightning. He made many public appearances in America. He was on CBS radio show twelve times (he had spoken on the BBC 42 times in England), he was a Hollywood guest meeting famous Errol Flynn there, and even became the hero of a comic strip calle the "Czech Night Hawk". Starting from October, he continued his tour in Canada. He visited RCAF flying schools from Montreal to Vancouver. New aircraft types were added to his flight records: Airspeed Oxford, Avro Anson, and Lockheed Hudson.
Half a year later, on December 12, 1943, Kuttelwascher came back to Britain. On January 24, 1944, he was transferred to the 32 MU (Maintenance Unit) in St. Athan near Cardiff, South Wales, as a testing pilot. He spent the rest of the war there, flying in new, repaired and modified aircraft of all categories. It were figter aircraft such as Hurricanes, Spitfires, and Beaufighters, seaborne Fireflies, light Magisters, Masters, and Proctors, two-engined Mitchell and Wellington bombers, transport Warwicks, Ansons and Dominias, as well as four-engined Halifaxes, Lancasters, Linconls, and Yorks.
With his 15 confirmed night kills, he appeared as the sixth on the listing of best RAF night fighter pilots. This was not a fair comparison, though, because his more successful colleagues (with 16 to 21 kills) won most of their victories under much better circumstances than him. They flew tow-engined Beaufighters or Mosquitos equipped with radiolocators. Kuttelwascher flew an one-engined single seated Hurricane with no radiolocator, relying exclusively on his cat's eyes. Unlike most of his higer scoring colleagues, he had to fly for his victims all the way to the heavily defended enemy airports, while most of the others collectied their kills over their own teritorry. In this aspect, he was only beaten - by the margin of a single kill - by W/Cdr B. Burdbridge. Burdbridge, however, scored as late as 1944, that is two years after Kuttelwascher. Kuttelwascher was by all means one of the most successful allied fighter aces.
He returned to liberated Czechoslovakia on board of a 311 Czech Squadron Liberator on August 18, 1945. He was welcomed as a national hero. He was promoted to a Staff Captain and transferred to the military section of the Praha-Ruzyně airport. One month later, he took up an assignment with the Military Airforce Academy in Hradec Kralové as an instructor. His post-war life was quite unlike the fate of his less lucky friends, who were released from service after the Communist putch in 1948, persecuted and frequently imprisoned. He quit his job with the Czechoslovak Airforce on May 21, 1946, and five days later left on board of a Dakota to join his family established in England during the war. He got a job with British European Airways in 1946. He flew Vickers Viking, Airspeed Ambassador, and Vickers Viscount airliners as the first officer, and later as the captain. This brought the number of types he had flown up to 60.
The war effort left its hidden consequences in him. He died of a heart attack quite unexpectedly on the night before August 18, 1959. This happened on a vacation in Truro in Cornwall, southern England. He was less than 43 years old. He is buried in Uxbridge near London.
He was decorated many times for his exceptionally successful military activity. He got the Czechoslovak Military Cross five times, the Czechoslovak medal For Bravery four times, Czechoslovak Degree I Honourable Medal, Memorial Medal of the Czechoslovak Army in Exile (with F-GB shields), the French gave him the Croix de Guerre with one Palm and one Silver Star, the British decorated him twice with the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC & Bar - 16th May and 27th June 1942), with The 1939-1945 Star with French and Battle of Britain Clasps, Air Crew Europe Star, Defence Medal and the War Medal.
His biographer R. Darlington wrote:
"Kut was essentially a complicated, modest man with more than a trace of contradiction. He managed to combine cool blood in the air with a certain irritability on the ground, he frequently showed modesty in the public together with a strong personal ambition, and generosity towards friends with lack of the same towards some of his family members. He was very withdrawn in relation to his numerous British friends, so he seemed to use words with the same caution as he had shot his shells years before. There was nothing chivalric in his behaviour in the air. He felt tremendous hatred for the Nazis, which could have only originated in the fact that he had personally witnessed the violation of his homeland. He was absolutely determined to shoot down as many Luftwaffe aircraft as possible.
He was an uncompromising man, quite given to his job. He was an absolute professional, who took flying very seriously, and loved nothing more than being in the air. His asketic way of life usually excluded drinking, smoking, gambling, and even parties, at least on the night before an operational flight. He was in no way a rebel, but he distingueshed himself outside the group. He was a loner, rather than a leader, and this was an important factor contributing to his success as a night fighter pilot. More than ten British and Czechoslovak decorations bear witness to his bravery. After all, his excellent actions speak for themselves."
Karel M. Kuttelwascher
RAF No.: 723 451
Born: 23rd September 1916 - Svatý Kříz, Austria-Hungary
Died: 18th August 1959 - Truro, Cornwall, England
Starting Rank: Sergeant
Final Rank: Squadron Leader
Cs. rank: Nadporučík (equal to F/O)
Serving since: 14th August 1940
Serving till: 1st October 1942
Armé De l'Air:
- CIC No. 6 Chartres
- Groupe de Chasse III/3
- No. 5 OTU
- No. 1 Squadron
- No. 23 Squadron
- No. 32 MU
- 20 confirmed (15 in night)
- 2 probably
- 5 damaged
- Čs. válečný kříz 1939 (War Cross 1939) 5x
- Medaile 'Za statečnost' (Bravery Medal) 4x
- Medaile 'Za zásluhy 1. stupně' (1st class Merits Medal & 2 Bars)
- Pamětní medaile čs. zahraniční armády se štítkem F a VB (Memorial Medal of Czechoslovak Foreign Army with France and Great Britain Bars)
- Croix de Guerre with one Palm and ne Silver Star
- Distinguished Flying Crossl & Bar
- The 1939 - 1945 Star (with France and Battle of Britain Clasps)
- Air Crew Europe Star
- Defence Medal
- War Medal.
Serzant Kuttelwascher left ocuppied Czechoslovakia and escaped to Poland.
Kuttelwascher signed for French Foreigners' Legion. That means when the war starts he will be added to Armé De l'Air.
Kut and his unit fellows escaped to Algeria. His Battle of France campaign was over. Score: Two confirmed and one probably kills.
Landing in the British port of Cardiff.
Kuttelwascher was sent 5 OTU in Aston Down to be retrained for the Hawker Hurricane
Kuttlewascher was transferred to the 1 Squadron that day. He stayed with this unit for almost two years, and contributed significantly to its fame.
Spring - early Summer
Kuttelwascher drew attention to him during these offensive actions of No. 1. He gained three certain and one probable kills in the Spring and early Summer of 1941. The machines shot down were Bf 109's, the E and F versions, generally considered superior to slower Hurricanes.
Kuttelwascher earned his first night victory. He shot down one Junkers Ju 88 and one damaged over the area of Melun.
Shot down a Dornier Do 217 over St. André de'l Eure.
Shot down one Do 17 and damaged a Ju 88 nearby Roun-Boos.
Shot down one Junkers Ju 88 over Rennes and send a Heinkel He 111 to the Dinard Canal.
Shot down three He 111's near St. André de'l Eure.
Awarded with the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Shot down one Do 217 near Dunkerque
Damaged a Do 217 over St. André de'l Eure.When returning from the area he managed to destroy another Do 217.
One Ju 88 destroyed and one damaged in the area of St. André de'l Eure.
Got a Bar to his DFC.
F/Lt Kuttelwascher scored his last victories. He shot down two Do 217's and one destroyed probably over Dinard airfield..
Kuttelwascher ended his great career in the No. 1 Squadron and joined the 23 Squadron to go on with two-engined Mosquitos NF Mk. II.
He returned to liberated Czechoslovakia.
Kuttelwascher resided to England where he found his familiy during the war years.
Squadron Leader-Staff Captain Karel M. 'Kut' Kuttelwascher, DFC & Bar, the best Czech fighter ace ever dies on a heart attack in Cornwall, England.
Story written by Adam Svoboda, edited, compared and 'logbook' created by Pisis. Thanks to gentlemen Jiri Rajlich and Jiri Sehnal.